Curaçao’s historical city center is on the rise again after years of deterioration and neglect. Social entrepreneur Kurt Schoop is one of the key players in the development of the Otrobanda neighborhood. He has created innovative ways to successfully combine his passion for community work with sustainable business models.
“I’ve always had entrepreneurial skills, I just didn’t use them for business purposes”, Kurt says looking back at his career. “Throughout the years, I have always looked for opportunities to create new things, to turn nothing into something. That’s how my passion for Otrobanda started.”
Kurt is not originally an Otrobandista but he became one. He really got to know the neighborhood while doing social work for Plataforma Otrobanda in the late 1990s, walking in and out of decayed monumental buildings and speaking to the residents. “It was love at first sight”, he recalls with a smile. Kurt saw the enormous potential of the area and its people and told himself he would one day settle in Otrobanda. In 2004 he did and purchased a beautiful yet deteriorated house in the Ser’i Otrobanda area. After renovating the house, Kurt started renting out rooms through AirBnB and attracted visitors from around the world. The timing was perfect as growing numbers of tourists were looking for authentic accommodations in the city center. He decided to buy a second house in the same area and rent it out as well.
At the time Kurt was working as a trainer and had become chairman of the Fundashon Ser’i Otrobanda. He followed numerous courses on community development and was trained in Landmark Forums and the OASIS game, a participative method to simulate and facilitate urban development and social cohesion. “All these courses had similar frameworks and made me ask myself three crucial questions: What is my dream? What am I doing? What is my question for the future?”
Kurt realized that while he had invested lots of time and energy in Otrobanda, he had never thought of a way to generate a return on his investments and make his work sustainable. In other words: he couldn’t live off his social work. He felt he had to come up with a viable business model for his community efforts and soon. More and more people were becoming interested to invest in the area and Kurt feared that if he didn’t act others would surely make good use of the social infrastructure he had created.
While looking for answers, Kurt went for drinks with good friends. They talked about how much they loved street parties with good food, music, art and before they knew it the Kaya Kaya Party idea was born. “We were discussing things we enjoy and we didn’t have on the island. So we thought: let’s do it ourselves!” More than just a street party, Kaya Kaya is actually a tool for community development on multiple levels. First, Kurt and his team of professionals and volunteers clean and beautify the party area with the active involvement of residents and property owners. Then the residents are involved as organizers, vendors or helpers. The publicity of the party pulls potential home buyers and investors into the neighborhood.
From the first edition of Kaya Kaya it became clear that others also liked the idea. The Kaya Kaya crew expected 500 visitors and more than 5000 people showed up. Kurt knew he now had to separate Kaya Kaya from his social work. He stepped down as chairman of Fundashon Ser’i Otrobanda and started Kaya Kaya B.V., a limited company with business partners Raygen Zuiverloon and Clayton Lasten. “We chose to start our own business and become social entrepreneurs. In the new setup, Kaya Kaya consists of four pillars: social, economic, infrastructure and cultural. We have partners for every pillar. For the social part, we team up with Fundashon Ser’i Otrobanda. For economic aspects, we have sponsors such as MCB and ENNIA, and partners such as Korpodeko, who are helping the residents become self-employed. Our infrastructural partners are companies like Mijnmaatschappij and MNO Vervat who deliver grit and fix the streets. We hope the government will also get involved as they are ultimately responsible for this aspect. Our cultural partners are organizations such as Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.”
As Kurt started getting more recognition for his work, he was approached by various people who wanted him to manage their house in Otrobanda. Reluctant at first, his business partner Clayton Lasten convinced him to start offering property management services. When presenting their plans to potential buyers, some house owners asked Kurt and Clayton if they didn’t want to just rent the houses themselves and do something great with them. Kurt liked the idea and turned these houses together with his own properties into Bario Hotel. It didn’t stop there. At this moment Bario Hotel consists of 28 apartments and rooms, each with its own unique and authentic style. The hotel has its own bar and a restaurant is in the making. Kurt sees a lot of opportunities for the near future. “The potential of the area hasn’t been fully used yet. I am facilitating real estate purchase and sales in the neighborhood, that’s just one example. There are plenty of niches. I see myself as a concept developer. All my projects have the same basis of leadership, management and vision. I had no experience in organizing events, owning a hotel or running a bar but I found out that if you do what you’re passionate about and combine that with a clear vision you can and will be successful.”
Kurt’s advice for those who want to get involved in city center entrepreneurship is to not be blind to your surroundings. “Look around you. Don’t scare the residents or drive them out to create something artificial but try to involve them in what you are doing. Make your ideas inclusive. Look for talented people in the area to help you. If you succeed in getting the residents on board you can grow together and be successful in the long run. Every area has its own authenticity that you should respect and value in order for your idea or project to blend in.”
He hopes that the way Kaya Kaya is set up will serve as a blueprint for other initiatives in the city center. “Let’s create a route connecting Pietermaai, Scharloo, Punda and Otrobanda in which we develop meeting points, artistic displays, bars and pop-up restaurants. I know it’s possible. I have taken care of my own house first and people liked it. Then I worked on my street, now we’re developing Ser’i Otrobanda. The next step will be the whole of Otrobanda and beyond!”
The next Kaya Kaya Street Party will take place on Saturday, December 21.